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Disney speeds after Nascar: Report
Newspaper says ABC and ESPN close to deal for second half of Nascar season starting in '07.
October 17, 2005: 9:37 AM EDT
The second half of the Nascar season could be shifting to ABC and ESPN from NBC and TNT, according to a published report.
The second half of the Nascar season could be shifting to ABC and ESPN from NBC and TNT, according to a published report.
SportsBiz SportsBiz Column archive Sports Illustrated email Chris Isidore

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Walt Disney Co. is close to winning broadcast rights to the last half of the season of Nascar, the nation's No. 2 spectator sport, according to a published report.

The New York Times reported that Disney (Research) will soon announce the deal to show the races from July through November on its ESPN cable sports network and its ABC broadcast network. The races are now shown on NBC, a unit of General Electric Co. (Research), and TNT, a unit of Time Warner (Research). CNN/Money is also a Time Warner unit.

Ramsey Poston, a Nascar spokesman, would not comment to the paper on any possible agreement in principle with ESPN and ABC. "No deal is done," he told the Times. "If and when there is news, we will announce it."

ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca also would not comment on a possible deal, although he told the paper "We've said for a long time that if an opportunity presented itself to have a conversation with Nascar, we'd be glad to oblige."

Nascar is second only to the National Football League in terms of television viewership, although the second half of the season has traditionally trailed the first half as the last few months have to go up against football broadcasts on most weekends.

The six-year ESPN-ABC deal is worth an estimated $280 million annually starting with the 2007 season and lasting through 2012, executives familiar with talks told the paper. That's 40 percent more than the $200 million a year that the NBC-TNT joint venture has paid since 2001.

NBC had an exclusive period of negotiations through the end of the year but chose earlier this month not to pursue a renewal because of the financial losses it incurred during its five seasons televising Nascar and demands for higher rights fees from Nascar, according to the Times report. It added that by waiving its right to exclusive talks with Nascar, NBC opened the door for talks to accelerate with ESPN and ABC.

NBC has been willing to walk away from a number of high-priced sports rights deals in recent years rather than incur steep losses. It gave up rights to the National Basketball Association after the 2001-02 season and Major League Baseball after the 2000 season. But after dropping the NFL following the 1997 season, the network agreed earlier this year to pay $600 million annually to start broadcasting Sunday night NFL games starting in 2006.

Meanwhile Disney saw its inventory of NFL games fall by half, as the Sunday night game now shown on ESPN moves to NBC next year and Monday Night Football shifts to ESPN from ABC starting in 2006. The shift left Disney with a hole in its Sunday sports schedule in the fall.

Fox, a unit of News Corp. (Research), also pays $200 million a year in a deal with Nascar that runs through 2008. It gets the first half of the season, although it alternates years that it broadcasts the season-opening Daytona 500, the sports' best-rated race. The company said in a 2002 filing that it expected losses of $297 million from its deal with Nascar through 2008.

In 2004, in an effort to improve the popularity of the season's last 10 races that compete directly with football broadcasts, Nascar instituted the "Chase for the Nextel Cup," a playoff-like system in which the sports' top 10 drivers in the season all have a chance to win the season point title. The change resulted in a 12 percent increase in ratings for the chase races, compared to the last 10 races of 2003, but the average ratings for those races still trailed the ratings for the first 26 races of the year.

For more on the business impact of Nascar's "chase" click here.

For more on the business of sports, click here.  Top of page

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